My children have been on their own for quite some time now. Even so, I do believe young Americans today are living in a revolving door era, particularly since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with its associated economic and housing challenges. Consequently, a return could be imminent, depending on what life brings.
As a younger parent I was guilty of fault-finding, sometimes nitpicking. “Your towel is on the bathroom floor.” “There’s a plate on your dresser that looks like it is growing mold.” “That’s what happens when you don’t lock up your bike: it gets stolen!” And so on.
I read some time ago that there is a recommended ratio for parents to adhere to, where messages of praise outnumber messages of disapproval. One expert said that for every one criticism you offer to your child for a negative behavior, find three occasions to praise them for positive behaviors.
My own lapses as an adult were no better, just different, but no one hounded me; that is, aside from my worst critic – myself.
As I was driving to the office one spring morning it was bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Loop Parkway, as I headed to the North Shore from my home in Long Beach. Traffic was delayed by the annual bridge and pothole repair parade, of course. The sun peaked through my car window and as I glanced down for a moment, I discovered that I was wearing two different colored shoes – one brown and one black. There have been times that I wore mismatched socks, but different shoes? It was a first.
What to do?
The voice in my head asked: Do I turn around, go back home and make an exchange or just keep going? I kept going. A little embarrassment can’t hurt, I thought. I could always tell people it is “Mismatched Footwear Day.” After all, isn’t there a day for everything now and an accompanying Hallmark greeting card for $8.95? Or has it been inflated to $12.95 by now? Maybe they upgraded to a pop-up card.
On another trip into my office, I arrived before opening time on a Monday morning. There were no other cars in the parking lot. As luck would have it, I had forgotten my building key ring and couldn’t open the door.
I waited for someone to arrive. After about 15 minutes no one showed up. I imagined that everyone decided to take a long weekend. After all, it was a beautiful sunny winter’s day. Or, more likely there was an accident on one of the highways that I narrowly escaped. I walked around the perimeter of the building and discovered an unlocked window. I pried it open and crawled through.
My first stop was to the kitchen to make coffee. Next, I walked upstairs to my office and got to work. After a while I walked back downstairs for a cup of coffee.
There was no receptionist at the front desk. I looked outside and the only car in the parking lot was mine. I walked over to the front desk and opened the notebook with everyone’s weekly schedules. They all had diagonal lines drawn through Monday. In that moment I could faintly hear the sound of some long familiar theme music from an old television show. Or as it my imagination?
We were closed for a legal holiday – Presidents Day.
Over the musical accompaniment, I could hear Rod Serling’s voice: “You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”
I headed upstairs, gathered my belongings, came back downstairs, crawled out the window I had pried open and drove back home. I’ve often wondered which was more disconcerting, the mismatched shoes or the fact that I broke into the office to work on a legal holiday.
From time to time I think back to the awkward moments that occurred when my children were still living at home. As parents, it helps to be fair and balanced when we critique our children. Which is not to say I am advocating for parents to take a laissez-faire approach. I’m not.
When I think back, though, I’m often reminded of something that noted anthropologist Joseph Campbell advised which I always try to keep close to my heart: “Perfection is not lovable; it is the clumsiness of a fault that makes a person lovable.”